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I Respect Dr. Mercola - But....

After reading a Dr. Mercola article, many people come to me and indicate they are a bit confused. They say some things I say conflict with Dr. Mercola. Let me explain.

Let's dissect a recent article, "You Need Carbs to Build Muscle."

Maybe a better title would be, "You should not EXCLUDE carbs if you want to build muscle... unless."

Joe has millions of followers, so it is impossible for him to produce content that applies to everyone. My biggest complaint that extends way beyond his is that no one gives context to the priority of a recommendation. That is why we developed "the hierarchy of health," which helps people differentiate between useful, important, and critical.

I wish Dr. Mercola would establish a 0-10 hierarchy scale for all his content. Even this would be subjective and personal, but it would be an improvement over just casting a wide net.

If you read this article on cooking your food, it is clear that, before cooking, we shared a similar diet with the primates, including fruits, nuts, and vegetables. Cooking allowed us to consume meats, including fish and animals that are high in proteins, fats, and micronutrients, if we consume organ meats, as our ancestors did. Thus, we adapted to process the 3 major macronutrients: fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. Yes, plants contain all 3, but our brains grew because of the higher intake of fats and proteins from an animal and fish diet.

"One size fits all" is not appropriate, especially in modern society, where our food supply is "corporate," stripped of micronutrients and fiber. Low fiber intake has had dire consequences on digestion. A raw (uncooked) diet is very disadvantageous today because of gut dysbiosis. Dr. Carter and I attended a conference many years ago, which included a dinner at an Andrew Weil restaurant. The food was excellent but mostly raw. I estimate that 80% of Americans would not enjoy the benefits of that fabulous meal because of even the most minor gut issues.

Many people have reported to me that they do not do well with raw vegetables. A subset of this group reports that they can see undigested vegetables in their stool. Fortunately, putting these folks on probiotics and digestive support often improves their digestion, and their stools become normal.

Carbohydrate intake is very personalized, with the key determinant being their insulin resistance/fasting insulin status. This video discusses this variable.

The key determinants on the need for higher or lower levels are carbs include insulin status and physical activity. One size does NOT fit all. However, many pundits state that humans do NOT need any carbs. They are not essential. This is a ridiculous statement, and the Mercola article corroborates my statement. The question becomes, what is an optimal intake?

We all want to achieve metabolic flexibility, which our ancestors had because they did not have guaranteed access to food daily. Thus, they efficiently used stored calories (fat metabolism/ketosis). In most cases, our carb intake - particularly low-value carbs (processed to reduce nutrient levels) is too high. Here are some measurements and their values that you can use to determine if your carb intake/exercise level is appropriate.

Fasting insulin: 1.5 - 3 mIU/L

Fasting glucose: 65 - 83 mg/dL

A1C: 4.5 - 5.3 %

Triglycerides: 50 - 70

Ketones (measured in the urine): moderate (15-40)


Here is the Mercola article. It may not be applicable to everyone and depends on your physiology.

(This link may sunset at some point.)

1. Carbs Provide the Body Energy to Build Bigger Muscles

Increasing muscle mass involves adding more contractile units (sarcomeres) to your muscle — increasing muscle length and cross-sectional area. The act of building that muscle tissue after the workout requires rest and food, as the act of building muscle is an energy-intensive process.14 Building muscle requires energy — our body does not run on thin air.

Eating protein is of course important (almost a no brainer!), as it provides the body the building blocks (amino acids) for the muscle tissue. But just eating protein is like delivering logs to build a log cabin, without any employees to assemble the cabin. Rebuilding something requires TOOLS and ENERGY (carbs).

2. Carbs Replenish Muscle Glycogen Levels

Glycogen is a storage form of carbs that is used for energy throughout the body, especially during your strength training sessions since fat is too slow of a fuel source for high power output. (So you use up a lot of these glycogen stores during your training session.)

A recent meta analysis discussed how a single strength workout will decrease muscle glycogen levels by 24% to 40%.15 And just 3 sets of 12 reps performed to muscular failure was shown to result in a 26.1% decrease in muscle glycogen levels.16 So one of the main reasons to consume carbs after your workout is to replenish these stores.

One study showed that muscle breakdown more than doubled in a glycogen-depleted vs. a glycogen-loaded state.17 This means your body is more likely to spend energy to rebuild that muscle tissue when your stores are full. Muscle is an “expensive” tissue to have — meaning it requires MORE fuel and MORE nutrients for “maintenance and upkeep.”

Why would a body that is already struggling with chronic stress and poor energy production spend valuable (and limited) energy resources on building muscle? That body is just focused on surviving — and building muscle would mean it would need more energy and tools that it is already low in.

Your body is intelligent — it's not going to “waste” energy on something it knows it can't support. That's like buying a new car but not being able to pay for monthly car payments. Full muscle glycogen stores are a signal of safety to your body — that there is enough energy, so it's okay to spend some of it building that muscle tissue back up and 'taking care of it' over the long run.

3. Carbs Lower Stress Hormones

Smart exercise is a good stress that yes, elevates cortisol levels. But we should try to lower that cortisol peak ASAP after the workout. Our muscles rebuild when we are in a rest and digest state, not in a state of fight or flight. Consuming carbs as part of your post workout meal significantly decreases cortisol and helps you recover faster.

One study showed that the inclusion of carbs to a post workout meal decreased cortisol levels by 11% (relative to the cortisol levels measured during the exercise session). The no carb group had a peak cortisol increase of 105%.18

Carbs help suppress the exercise-induced cortisol release, so that you can recover faster, keep your hormones balanced, and maintain strong thyroid health and a robust metabolism.

“But our body can make all the carbs it needs” — this is a very common counter argument we receive, largely from men. That we don't need to consume carbs since our body can make its own carbohydrates via a process called gluconeogenesis. We get it fellas, we used to be obsessed with this dogma, and ideology, too.

I will counter and say — well, technically our body can make all the fat it needs if we don't consume dietary fat. But is that optimal? No. Carb restriction and strength training doesn't make sense when you learn human physiology. Not consuming carbs may “work” — but at what cost? What processes and functions get down regulated to allow for this excessive gluconeogenesis?

Your body uses carbs during strength training, full stop. So either you eat some dietarily, or your body makes it. Relying on this pathway will down regulate metabolism and thyroid health over time — you will be simply surviving, not thriving. And being in a low metabolic state leads to more catabolism (breakdown of muscle tissue) — not what we want!

After 1.5 years of taking this approach, we finally 'woke up' that we were driving ourselves into the ground. We were in denial at the time, but our lifting numbers and muscle mass went in the opposite direction.


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Hi Dr. Lewis, thank you for your input and I appreciate, and respect, your opinions and response. Regarding this, I always strategize and/or prioritize the articles I will read for the day on Dr. Mercola's site so as to efficiently use of what constitutes and left of my time. Quote: "(This link may sunset at some point.)" This has already been changed a few days ago by a recent message from Dr. Mercola. You can read it all down below. (Note: The mere fact that the above link is STILL active is a testament that all of his past and archived articles are available again on his main site.)

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